The transaction was led by Simon Bailey, a partner in the commercial real estate team, and supported by fellow real estate partner Robin de Wreede. Due to the complex nature of the asset, the transaction benefitted from expertise across the firm, including lawyers from Ashfords’ public sector, construction and infrastructure, employment, commercial, tax, intellectual property, planning and property litigation teams.
Now that the deal has completed, the Council intends to invest in improvements to the popular shopping centre, which will continue as a key retail and food and drink destination in the centre of Exeter. The site also includes some residential elements in addition to retail units and restaurants, though the Council has ruled out incorporating purpose-built student accommodation.
“We’ve now got a great opportunity to bring the Guildhall Shopping Centre under the control of the people of Exeter,” said Leader of the Council, Phil Bialyk, in a statement. “We want a thriving city centre for people to enjoy, with great shops and restaurants together with urban and sustainable living to support the vibrancy and sustainability of our fantastic city centre.”
City Surveyor Michael Carson commented: “It was a pleasure to work with Simon and the team at Ashfords. We were well supported throughout the process with the Ashfords team acting with a level of professionalism and commercial awareness that was critical to making this a successful acquisition.”
Lawyer Monthly had the pleasure to speak with Simon Bailey, Partner at Ashfords to give us some further insight into this transaction:
Can you share more about the role that Ashfords played during this transaction?
We were delighted to act for Exeter City Council on this acquisition. We used our significant experience in shopping centre investment work to guide the client through what can often be a myriad of issues with assets of this nature. This started from the outset, where we were involved in heads of terms discussions which avoided potential hurdles later in the transaction. Shopping centres are by their nature constantly evolving assets, involving a broad range of issues across various legal disciplines. We used the strength and depth of the firm’s expertise to provide concise and commercial advice on matters ranging from intellectual property and social media accounts to service contracts and break notices. We worked closely with our client’s agents and surveyors to ensure our advice dovetailed with any broader commercial drivers and technical considerations.
Did you encounter any significant challenges during the acquisition? If so, how did you overcome them?
The main challenge was the amount of information that comes with a shopping centre. Our experience allowed us to advise our client on what information was most relevant and material and where the focus should be applied during the due diligence exercise. This allowed us to distill any material considerations into a digestible format and to do so promptly. As the asset also included residential elements, this required specialist advice which our public sector and housing teams were able to provide.
We used our significant experience in shopping centre investment work to guide the client through what can often be a myriad of issues with assets of this nature.
What do you expect the impact of this acquisition will be on the Guildhall shopping centre and Exeter more broadly?
We believe the acquisition of the Guildhall shopping centre will ensure the ongoing investment and energy it requires to retain its place as an important part of the city centre. The centre has seen some exciting new arrivals in recent times and we are confident that, with it now coming under the full control of Exeter City Council, it will give occupiers further confidence for the future.